New U.S. general looks to shift tack in Afghanistan
The United States plans to review tactics in Afghanistan in response to widespread anger about the high number of civilian casualties, the newly appointed U.S. commander said in comments broadcast on Friday, Reuters reported.
Speaking after his confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal said his focus would be balancing the "short-term tactical impact" of operations with the "long-term strategic effect", emphasising that protecting the population was central to getting the balance right.
"One of the things we will do is review all of our rules of engagement and all the instructions to our units, with the emphasis that we are fighting for the population and that involves protecting them both from the enemy and from unintended consequences of our operation," McChrystal told the BBC.
"We know that while an operation may be conducted for the right reasons, if it has negative effects it can have a negative outcome for everyone."
McChrystal, a former commander of special forces in Iraq, is due to take command of the 56,000 U.S. troops and 33,000 others from NATO countries shortly, replacing General David McKiernan, who was effectively dismissed last month.
The high level of civilian casualties from U.S. air strikes and other attacks on suspected Taliban hideouts has become an extremely sensitive issue, with Afghanistan's leaders and the local population openly critical of the U.S. military.
An air strike last month in western Afghanistan killed a large number of civilians, with the U.S. military acknowledging 20-35 killed and the Afghan government saying it was 140.
"The most important part is shielding the Afghan people so they can accept the government of Afghanistan as legitimate and effective," McChrystal said of his priorities.
"So if we win this effort, it will be because we protected the population, and going after the high-value enemy targets will just be a supporting effort to do that."
The general acknowledged that the war in Afghanistan had a long way to run. When asked if he could do with more troops, he said that no general would ever turn down extra forces. He said an overall goal would be preventing al Qaeda's re-emergence.
"The guidance that I've been given as I interpret it is to prevent both al Qaeda's re-emergence and, in this case, the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, so that we don't have safe havens inside Afghanistan in the future," he said.